G. Tekhelet and the Colour of the Sky

The point of R. Meir’s homily on Tekhelet is clearly the similarity of the colour to that of the Throne of Glory as seen in prophetic vision. The resemblance of Tekhelet to sky-colour was not first pointed out by R. Meir; it must have been clear to everybody. Josephus, as already has been remarked, assumes his readers to be fully cognisant of the fact. Josephus, we have seen, makes two assertions about the hyacinth (Tekhelet) colour (a) that it is black (dark) of hilo and (b) that it reproduces the colour of the sky. To the reader unacquainted with the subtropical sky this might appear somewhat difficult: the colour of our sky even in the finest weather is rather bright than black-blue. Braun hits the right point when he warns the reader against identifying the Tekhelet-hue with that of the sky of our temperate climates. (De Vesti Sacerdotum, Hebr. Cap. XII, “thecheleth.”)

Compare Rosenmüller:


“With the ether or the cloudless sky … which appears in the hot regions of Asia and Africa as a saturated black playing a bluish color”  “Mit dem Aether oder dem unumbewolkten Himmel … der in den heissen Gegenden Asiens und Africas als eine gesätigte Schwarze ins Bläuliche spielende Farbe erscheint”1


The Sumerian ideogram sagin-gig, i.e., wool, sky-blue dark is as Professor Langdon of Oxford has informed me, very probably the equivalent of the Semitic takiltu (Tekhelet). Thus for the Sumerians, as for Josephus, Tekhelet had the appearance of the dark blue of the serene Asiatic sky in bright sunshine. The light blue of the sky in somewhat dull weather was not regarded as the real colour of the sky. This illustrates the indication “and like the colour of the heaven in clearness.”2

The dark blue fringes adorning the corners of the garments of Asiatic captives depicted on a monument discovered in the tomb of Rekhma Ra at Thebes were probably meant to remind the wearer of the clear skies of the Deity.

That the relation subsisting between Tekhelet and the colour of the sky was not first discovered by R. Meir nor even by Josephus needs of course no proof but it may not be out of place to draw attention in this connection to the following baraitha: “the minimum number of links is seven in correspondence to the seven Heavens and the six spaces (or horizons) intervening between them.”3 The reference is to the series of “windings” (חוליות של כריכות) made with the Tekhelet-thread around the white threads of the tzitzit. As this baraitha is not gainsaid by any authority it doubtless records a long established practice most probably anterior to R. Meir. R. Meir’s homily being mere Aggadah would scarcely have given rise to so universal a practice; the baraitha doubtless reflects an idea generally current.



  1. Rosenmüller, Ernst Friedrich Karl, Scholia in Vetus Testamentum, Leipzig (1788-1835). Commentary on Exodus, ch. XXV. Compare also; Maimonides, Hilkhot tzitzit, II, 2 and Hilkhot Klei Hamikdash, VIII.
  2. Exodus, Ch. XXIV, v.10.
  3. Menahot 39a.